What employees need to know about paid leave during the Coronavirus pandemic.
On March 18th, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which adds two critical new workplace protections for employees during the pandemic. The new law, which took effect on April 1st and expires on December 31st, provides much-needed job security for millions of employees across Ohio and the nation.
The first new protection is paid sick leave due to coronavirus. The second is FMLA leave for childcare due to the pandemic’s emergency school closures.
Below is some more information to help Ohio employees understand their new rights in these uncertain times.
Paid sick leave for Ohio employees affected by coronavirus
The Families First Act gives many full-time employees up to 80 hours (less for part-time employees) of paid sick leave due to the coronavirus pandemic. It applies if an employee:
- Has coronavirus;
- Is under a government quarantine order;
- Has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine; or
- Has symptoms and is seeking diagnosis.
It also provides paid sick leave to care for family members if:
- The employee is caring for a close relative who has the virus, has been quarantined by the government or a doctor, or has symptoms and is seeking a diagnosis; or,
- The employee is caring for a minor child because of the emergency school closures.
The main point here should provide some relief for many: covered employees cannot be fired because they get coronavirus or because a spouse, parent, or child gets it.
This leave is paid only up to a point. For employees who miss work for their own illness or quarantine, the pay is capped at $5,110. For those who take leave to care for a family member or due to school closure, the pay is capped at $2,000.
There’s another really important catch. The new law does not permit employees to simply decide to stay home and self-quarantine. To be protected based on self-quarantine there must be a government order or a specific recommendation from the employee’s healthcare provider.
After the 80 hours of leave expires, employees might still be protected. For some, the existing provisions of the FMLA could provide additional job-protected (but unpaid) leave for an employee with coronavirus. It will depend on whether the employee was hospitalized or how many times they need to visit a healthcare professional for treatment. For more on how the FMLA typically applies, visit our FMLA page.
Paid family leave to care for children due to pandemic school closures
Affecting many working parents, Congress also temporarily expanded the FMLA to provide leave for employees who miss work because of the emergency schools closures.
Ordinarily, the FMLA does not cover childcare for a healthy child. It also usually protects only those employees who have been employed for at least a year. The Families First Act changes that through the end of 2020.
It provides 12 weeks of job-protected leave when an employee needs time off to care for a minor child because their school has been closed due to the pandemic. To put it another way, covered working parents can’t be fired for missing work as a result of the emergency school closures. The protection kicks in once an employee has been employed for at least 30 days.
This leave is unpaid for the first 10 days. After that, it is paid at 2/3 of the employee’s ordinary salary, up to $10,000 in total.
Employees will have the right to return to their jobs at the end of this childcare leave. One exception is that employers with fewer than 25 employees will not be required to offer employees their jobs back in some circumstances.
Are Ohio employees protected from termination during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Sadly, not all of them. Although the Families First Act offers vital new protections, it has several major limitations.
First, Congress excluded first responders and healthcare workers. So police, EMTs, nurses, doctors, and others in these fields are not protected by the new leave provisions. Whether other existing protections might apply depends on the particular facts. Speak with an employment attorney to find out what you can do to protect your job. We commonly represent doctors, nurses, and others in the healthcare field and are here to help.
Second, the new paid leave laws don’t apply to employers with more than 500 employees. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half of Ohio employees work for employers of this size. All these employees are uncovered, unfortunately. And if they are out of sick leave (assuming they had any to start with), the virus poses concerns about more than just health. Ironically, it can be precisely these employees who may be most vulnerable to the virus because of underlying medical conditions. Fortunately, they might otherwise find protection under the existing provisions of the FMLA or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
How Ohio employees can best protect their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic
If your head is spinning from this, it’s ok. These laws are very complicated under normal times. And these times are anything but normal. The bottom line is Congress has given employees a huge safety net to protect their jobs during the pandemic. But it is not foolproof and won’t protect all employees. Your best bet to understand—and protect—your rights is to call an experienced Ohio employment law attorney.
The employment lawyers at Bolek Besser Glesius are here to help. Initial consultations are free. If you have questions, email or call us.